When Christina Maslach, PhD, started her psychology research career in the early 1970s, she didn’t know her work would lead to the Maslach Burnout Inventory, a measure for professional burnout still being used today. She first published the inventory with coauthor Susan E. Jackson in 1981. Dr. Maslach, who is professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, has researched and published extensively about burnout throughout her career and has helped to define the way we discuss and understand the combination of stress, exhaustion, and powerlessness that endangers the careers—and lives—of many emergency physicians.
ACEP Now Medical Editor-in-Chief Kevin Klauer, DO, EJD, FACEP, recently sat down with Dr. Maslach to discuss the early research that led to her developing the Maslach Burnout Inventory, and what she’s learned from decades of talking to people about burnout. Here is Part 2 of their conversation. Part 1 appeared in the September issue.
KK: I’m noticing people moving away from the term “burnout” and moving toward “resiliency.” What are your thoughts on that?
CM: On the one hand, I think it’s a good strategy to focus on what are the positive goals we could move toward. People are going to be more highly motivated to make things better—let’s improve the situation—rather than simply focusing on the negative. In fact, we did that in our research earlier when we started focusing on what we were calling engagement as the opposite of what we were seeing in terms of burnout.
Where I would disagree a little bit is that resilience is really focusing on individual characteristics such as how well you cope, how well you take care of yourself, etc. The biggest challenge I find right now is that people keep thinking of burnout as a personal problem, and how do we get people to fix themselves? What that means is, we’re not paying attention to all of the causes of the problem.
Years ago, there was a cartoon showing a medical doctor in a white lab coat running on a treadmill really fast, with a huge fire and flames licking at his heels. Resiliency is directed at how to make you run faster, be stronger, last longer, etc., but it’s not doing a thing about the fire. At some point, we really need to make sure that we’re looking at both, but being healthy, getting enough rest, meditating, and doing yoga aren’t going to solve the problem. I’m a believer in what’s happening upstream is causing this problem.